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mode for the reasons that you decided to write this book? >> we were never close friends, but when he died, i had the thought that i might well be the right person because we shared a lot of political values and
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common and i always liked him very much as a human being. so, i talked to the family and the archives or in process but they were let me -- willing to let me in, and i did that for a couple of years. i think the real surprise in terms of the archives is that he seemed to be very open man and had in fact vetted his archives quite considerably committing much of his correspondence and also anything that diluted to his personal life. i didn't expect that. that was the first for me and
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all of the biographies that i've done. >> we will start with his earlier life where you were able to get information from family and friends. so i wanted to ask about some of his formative political experience, starting first with his family life, growing up as the son of immigrants, russian jewish immigrants in brooklyn. >> guest: well, as i think i say in the book, he was in a sense born conscience because both of his parents had very little education, and his father worked extremely hard as a waiter come as a window washer, all kinds of work with the result that he had a very bad back that had to keep on working and the family had to keep on moving. his mother was very resourceful and she would get a deal where
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the department would be free for one month and they would pay for the second month and they would take a free month and then moved and they kept doing that in order to avoid a friend. so it was a very poor family. and she knew very early on that the notion all you have to do is work hard and you can get anywhere you want to get in life he knew that was nonsense. no one could have worked harder than his father did coming and his father never even entered the middle class. >> when he was in high school he had a number of friends involved in political activity, and you talk about a sort of radical experience, what happened with him at a demonstration in times square. >> yes, we don't have much information about it. it's fairly fuzzy, but we do
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know that he hung out with some radical minded fellow teenagers in brooklyn and that he was influenced by them. we know that a couple of them where even in the communist party. howard was not, he was never an ideal of of any kind but he was influenced by them and by his own circumstances, and one day they went to times square and we don't even know where the conversation was about but we do know that howard went along only to have the police mounted on horseback charging through the crowd, and he got bought on the head and he woke up hours later in a doorway at the march or the protest had long since ended.
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>> now, a few years later and i fascism became a big part of his political identity and in fact also a love of his friends thought at the second world war in a sort of battle of variant dim eikenberry as imperialists he felt the fascism was a very serious thing and in fact wanted to be in the war. can you talk about how he got involved? >> well, he actually volunteered. she did feel as you say very strongly about fascism. but i was surprised given the fact as a lead teenager he had been at least somewhat radicalized. i was surprised that he wasn't more outspoken about the horror of the world. in fact we don't have a lot of information from his time in the surface.
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the protest for the slaughter, the meaning of the killing, etc.. i think in part that is because as always you are dropping bombs from high yep you never see the damage that's being brought by the bombs on the ground below, so he never had to face explosively the results of his own activity, but it was very soon after world war ii that he became aware of the fact the very last mission that he flew they were ordered to fly the mission even though they knew the war was about to end after
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the war he went back and actually did some archival work and she was horrified how much this beautiful little town had been a fever for example had been decimated and almost ought german troops had been killed. but you do say that he never called himself a pacifist and although this is a big
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experience for him he ended up having a somewhat nuanced opinion. >> i would say certainly he was the essence of nonviolence. he was a gentle, kind, generous man. he never actually joined a group like the war resistors which is devoted to nonviolence on all occasions because he was a jew. what i have done if i had been on the war. what i have picked up bombs or tried to shoot my way out? what i have killed germans? he never answered it to his
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satisfaction. but he knew pretty well the answer was yes. that as a matter of self-defense , he did believe that that violence could be justified. >> so maybe now you can walk us through what he did after the war. >> thanks to the bill he was able to go to college and following that he was already married by the way. he married when he was quite young in his early 20s and his wife was also young, and he already had two babies so when he decided to get his ph.d. in history at columbia, it was difficult. the family was living very badly
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broz's took some sort of secretarial work part time. they couldn't afford a babysitter all the time and they did various midnight shifts in order to add a little more money to the park. but they were essentially very poor for getting his doctorate in fairly short order. >> host: he was at spelman college, long term appointment. >> guest: yeah, he talked about getting his ph.d., but his first full-time appointment was at spellman. >> median moving down to the south that seems to be how he got involved in a lot of the civil rights activity. what was going on at spelman college at that time, and what
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did howard find himself in the middle of a lot of the civil rights politics? >> spelman college was in atlanta and even though it is seen today as one of the less racist spots in the south, in effect atlanta was almost totally segregated when howard arrived at spellman, but by the way, she made sure that people never thought that he took a job at an all black women's college because he was committed to the black struggle. but it was just beginning and to know how word did care about black rights he wasn't in activist on behalf of those rights.
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in fairly short order she and his wife both became very active the first white women came a little bit our after his arrival and even then a very few of them young black women many of whom had been part of the rural areas, they were slightly stunned at this white teacher and there were fewer other members of this bill my faculty. but howard was a genius of a teacher. she was very informal, very easygoing fox, he prided himself on a conversation and entertaining other points of view. he didn't see himself as a
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lecturer. someone was handing down the truth to the enlarged. securely on created a very warm give-and-take in the classroom to get to the activist students began put a towel in the water and go from what happens when you view that policeman will for you against a wall or whatever. they decided i'm going to do more, others retreat completely and return to the fray, but howard was certainly not one of those. >> host: the activity that he belongs in at least helping the students out with was the set in which is a confrontational step.
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>> guest: absolutely any number of times. i never bothered to add up the full count, but howard and his wife would sit in often with two or three black students and then when they were refused service they would continue to serve. what would then follow would be a variety of things, just depending on the restaurant of the day of the week and so forth. some restaurants just turned over their rights and locked the doors. others just let them sit there and went on a serving the other customers. >> they are with sncc. can you talk about how you got
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involved with them? >> guest: got involved originally true sncc through the sit-ins. he was very modest always about the contribution that he made to sncc but a number of other historians who are specialists in the civil rights struggle, one of them i remember said howard was so modest about his pronounced activity with sncc that if they want certain records that we have, one would hardly know that he was involved at all. but in fact she was equally involved, and he was asked along with baker if who was one in the movement, howard and ella baker
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were the senior advisers to sncc. >> host could you set in the book that he wasn't much of a joyner and that he likes to be a part of the movements but he wasn't an organizer so much as he was an inspiration to a lot of people. what were some of the skills that you think that he brought crux was it the public speaking, his personal relationships. >> i think all of that. what he meant when he said he wasn't a joyner wasn't that he wasn't willing to give any amount of time necessary to something that he believed. what he meant is that he had no patience for the administrative work, and the sort of nuts and bolts of building an
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organization. he wanted to discuss the big issues. and what his archives to contain or a significant amount of handwritten notes that he took during some of the most significant meetings of sncc. for example, the meeting that it debated whether or not sncc should continue to allow whites to volunteer for the organization. there was a very heated debate, and eventually ended up black members and fighting the white members to go and organize their own communities of north. >> host: how did she react to that decision? >> he thought that it was a mistake because it meant there would be segregated enterprises once again.
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the blacks and blacks alone would be active in sncc and they would be organizing white working-class communities. he was against it, but at the same time he understood it he was aware having taught at stoneman all those years like bob moses and julian bond i don't mean on their part necessarily. they begin to look to some of the organizations as if the white students were taking over the leadership position in part
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because the black members were deferring to them. >> host: would you say that it was around the same time some of these divisions were popping up in the civil rights movement that she began to get more involved in the peace movement, the antivietnam war movement? >> i think that was somewhat coincidental. he was in fact fallujah from spellman in 1963, and the entire war movement had not yet really begun. it started to begin the very next year. how word shifted his base of operation and his family at north when he was offered a job at boston university. but he continued to flash back to the south. he took part for example and
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freedom summer in 1964 and flew back any number of times in order to attend some of the strategy sessions. but it is true that once the movement began against of the war in vietnam that he also felt very strongly about that and his energy began to divide, you know, she never forgot about the black struggle or ceased to have full sympathy with it. but the demand on his time tended to be more in regard to the vietnam. >> host: before we talk about what he did in opposition to the war we can talk about him getting fired from spearman college. this is an interesting episode of his life and it is certainly
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related to the civil rights that he did. what was going on at spellman at the time? >> guest: spellman had a black president at that time named albert manly, and it's only since the book has come out as a result of the conversation with someone. i've changed my perspective and he and so vividly howard and his family were packed up in the summer of 1963 ready to go to boston for the summer, and he stopped off at the mailbox for one last book because they needed the last salary check and he hoped would be there. what she found instead was the
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letter from him that preemptively fired him and told him not to come back. and it seemed like an awfully rough and cruel way to get rid of somebody when all the students were off campus and so forth. but when i referred to rethinking it a little, i did come across an early speech of which he congratulated the black students of spellman for having activate themselves on behalf of civil rights, and i was very puzzled because i had no other evidence of that she was encouraging. in fact, he was a very tight authoritarian figure who insisted that all the rules, and
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the rules included no man ever allowed in the room, the students had to wear gloves half of officious fourth, they had to go to the chapel every morning etc, an extremely traditional set of rules. but in rethinking it recently, it seems to me that maybe what that letter represents is that manly himself was walking a very fine line. all the black presidents of colleges in those years were essentially held their positions on the sufferance of the white powers that be. so it could have been that at least part, if not much of his
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anger wasn't simply that he was mobilizing the students, but that he was unable to because of his position. if he had given a speech saying let's all go down to joe's restaurant she would have been fired immediately. so, it was a very complicated kind of dance the two were doing with each other. >> host: there is a somewhat less complicated it seems when he was at boston university where he butted heads with the president of the university there, john silver, and that went over the decades that he was there; is that correct? >> yes. yes. , silver that died recently -- i was just told some publication had a sign to review my
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biography. i can't say that i was pleased he had died but he had reviewed the book. he was such a deep conservative that on some issues it's even fair to call him a reactionary. at boston university the chair of the board was a man at least as conservative as sulfur himself if that he was back
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involved in. >> guest: and 64, 65 im for getting myself at this point, but i think it was 65 that howard was already active. he gave a speech on the boston common against the war, and that only drew 100 people. when he spoke just a few years later, you know, he drew 50,000 because in the entire war troops had mobilized. but back in '65 the mobilization was just beginning to roll they
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withdrew all of their troops immediately. that was an extremely radical position. even into the early 70's. but howard argued brilliantly. to my mind is one of the two or three best of his books. and certainly it was a clearing and call because nobody else had argued the case so brilliantly as he did in that book. >> host: one of the more controversial episodes in the
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book is a trip howard made to north vietnam along with a very famous peace activist from the 60's. you talk a little bit about how that came together and what happened with this trip he made. >> yes. it was the result of david del clincher who was another very well known peace activist at the time. david hellinger called him and said that the north vietnamese leadership had alerted him that they were willing to release three american pilots who had been captured, but they wanted to release them into the hands of peace negotiators, not into reps' from the u.s. government said he was asked to go with dan, and he said well.
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he said tomorrow morning and he left the next morning. there was conflict how the p.o.w. was being released and to get back to the united states. what happened there? >> guest: it had been how word and dan's understanding that the pilots would come home and drive the commercial planes and the u.s. government insisted on using the government plans which outraged not only howard and a ban but also the resist and everybody had been involved in that operation. there was a lot of criticism for this trip. many people seem to think that he was basically acting as a
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stooge for the communist north vietnam. how did they respond to some of the criticisms coming out? >> guest: no way he responded to all criticisms in regard to his entire war stance, this is an evil war. we should never have been there in the first place. we are doing roofless horrible things, killing multitudes of people. though war has to be ended and any jester we can make to that end we want to go on making. estimate his political activity would go on throughout his life in the solidarity being impressed by the regime's and
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the opposition to apartheid fairly soon he would be most famous for his writing for his history there's a book on racism in the south on sncc and vietnam >> host: what happened with the people's history and the united states? how did that start to cover? >> guest: i think that was an outgrowth of the way in which he saw the world and the way in which the truth was being represented by american historians and textbooks. there was a study done the year before the people's assistant of
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the u.s. came out in 1980, the 1979 study was of a group of u.s. history textbooks and the research concluded those textbooks overwhelmingly the lives of ordinary people that never mentioned him pfft it glorifies the american triumphalism that the textbooks were essentially the stories of our wonderful akaka the businessmen, privileged corporate elite, etc., but you know nothing about, next to nothing about what life was like for ordinary citizens of the
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country. some of the figures who were heroes lies in the textbooks like christopher columbus hardly deserve to those that were being sent their way, that columbus in fact have been butchered them when he first landed in the new world and treated them with immense hardship and harshness so what he set out to do without pretense he didn't conceal his hand. he said i'm writing to fill in the blanks and an alternate history to a standard textbooks. i think students need to know about the rest of american history.
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the standard textbooks cover. >> host: the history you will find references to the historians whose work action is building often writing the book and the 600 pages very, very quickly. so he was he synthesizing other word that was coming out the was more scholarly and getting the material together for the book. >> guest: he wasn't doing archival work. he didn't enjoy doing and manuscript library is year after year gathering primary materials he was gregarious and social a man. he wasn't cut out for that kind of archival work.
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i myself am an archival historian. but that says lots of things about me. for the very detailed perfectionist kinds of work it's quite true that people's history is the result of him synthesizing the work of a great many other historians what had happened in the 1960's with the counterculture with a whole new generation of young historians that had come up and they worried innocence in evaluating all aspects of our paths one of
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his closest friends the historians who was an archival historian any number of books revaluating the american revolution. >> host: at the time it cannot it's been in sood book was the subject of a lot of criticisms to hear criticisms even on the people that were glad of and sympathetic with his politics there were criticisms of the book and i will read just a couple of them that would be in some magazines. he thought that was bad history albeit gilded with virtuous intentions and that he was reducing the path to the manichean fable. can you talk a little bit about some of these criticisms to the book, how they've responded to them and how you evaluate them in your biography of them.
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>> guest: in his more recent book the dreamers he's also very critical. i would say that he is the smartest of the critics. most of them come from the conservative side of the tracks. they simply are not sympathetic with his politics and there they try to discredit his scholarships. i myself in the biography do take issue with parts of the people's history i think for example that he is much too hard on abraham lincoln. he denies that lincoln was ever concerned with the plight of slaves but everything he did in regard to slavery was a function
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of political maneuvering. i think that was an accurate picture to get the accurate picture you have to read something like eric phone are in the most recent book the five-year trial -- firey trial. i have problems almost as to all historians with every work of history. that's because a certain amount of such activity is always built into the process of writing history. on the one hand there is the problem of we are always dealing with fragments capital of evidence. what comes down to it at the
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past years a small fraction of what actually happens in the past and now the fraction seems to represent the experience and the interest of the class's. for the history they knew how to write and knew how to keep records. so there is an automatic bayh yes simply in terms of the evidence. that the then when you bring to that fragmentary evidence the individual historians he/she is always the product of their own life experience, the values that they currently hold, so you have
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this subjective individual history in interpreting that is subjected by very limited evidence. every work of history that you see you can see why the conclusions drawn are the ones rahm. so why do not think that howard is exceptional in the sense would be the various bones we can to get. of course that is true of every work of history. it is to say right up front that the beginning of the book, look, this is my take on u.s. history.
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this is how i see the evidence. keep that in mind as you read because you will want to know that this is the product of one person's hand, you can feel free to disagree if you liked. >> host: people's history was criticized by a lot of people and ended up being perhaps the most widely read book of history in the united states and still is today. i can attest personally that i was taught in my u.s. history classroom that's absolutely why did become such a popular book what is it about the book should we chalk it up to the fact they
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didn't have to grow up next door to howard or is their something else going on? >> guest: he did have a couple of lucky breaks. one of them is matt damon who mentioned the book in "good will hunting" in fact made quite a production in the book and then after that, it was an episode on the sopranos and which the son comes home with the book and starts denouncing columbus. up until that bucket laden of a few years but up until that point, it had sold fairly modestly. those two mentions in on a prominent venues the book started to take off, and every year it is literally
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unprecedented every year of the people's history sells more copies than the preceding year that is astonishing. so, this book hasn't reached the end. it's coming up word of like 2.5 million copies at this point. >> host: and a number of languages, too. the people's history of labour and so forth. >> host: do you think there was some he was trying to bring forth in the book. the credit historical forces that he was trying to identify? >> i think that his sympathies in the book those that were
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struggling to make a better life manning the vast majority of people, and one reason i think that howard's book to continue to have great influence and to sell very well we have learned the privileged few are monopolizing the wealth. it's the old 99% slogan so the book resonates the current climate of opinion in this country that far too few people are monopolizing the benefits of
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the society where as the vast majority are seeing for keefe they're seeing their lives become less a good but inflation is though modestly a lot of people who are finding jobs are finding only part-time work the university this is done by so called adjunct to read these are people better peter ridiculously low salaries. something like on average $4,500 a cost and they are not allowed to teach more than three courses in most places. some places it is only two courses, and yet they are kept busy racing from campus to campus in order just to survive
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the archival work for doing the kind of work that might earn them a ten year promotion in some college or university. and that is what we are seeing everywhere in the economy. it isn't just the university's. >> host: so you write throughout devotee is telling the story of how the powerful few have dominated the many. yet he also talked consistently throughout the book about his optimism which was sort of a begin in any politics he was involved in deacons where the optimism he had about politics and breaking through people having better lives for themselves and this kind of pattern he saw. >> guest: it's not easy if
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pfft. if romney had won the election i think i would probably have given up giving up on the american people, but what he kept saying, and he proved right again, she kept saying change and the impetus for change arrives in the most unpredictable way that the most unpredictable time it's the workers strike start taking place throughout american history that have sales. but some of them have succeeded if there was one powerful union movement in the united states alas now something like 11 or 12% of the workers are unionized
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and that's all but there are some signs of a rebirth, too. and who would have predicted occupy wall street. to me that came out of nowhere just as my optimism was lower and lower into the ground and they think my god a whole new generation coming and it really looks like this generation is going to be different. and in every poll that i've seen regardless of the question like do you think they should be allowed to married officially it's the 26 age cohort in all of the pros and all of the polls for the most progressive policies and it tends to be that as you move into the older age
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groups that we find a deepening conservative as some that as a way to remain optimistic in this new generation is going to try yet again, and maybe with any luck they will have a little more success. >> guest: looking back over his life we have kind of been talking about him as a scholar. does it make sense to see these identities as separate? do you think that one suffers from the other tiffin involved in politics at the scholars as well. >> guest: what howard said is very important.
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as teachers and university professors that we teach the same, we teach, we write all of that's fine, all of that needs doing, but all of us are also citizens, and we have the obligation as citizens to deal with the events of our own time, to deal with this generation's current issues, and howard certainly did, and i tried to, we were not interested necessarily in the same issues, but i think all that you've asked if someone like howard is that he actively dealt with the issues that were most prominent when she was coming up, and that meant issues relating to the race and class and that is in the issues that began in the
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late 1960's in the gay rights movement he never said a word about any of those movements but his heart wasn't in them. his heart was in issues relating to the class. >> host: the but you talk a fair amount his wife. did you feel like looking at her life was a kind of insight into some of howard's politics when it came to feminism can do that shed any light on the subject. >> guest: the subject of laws? >> host: in addition to any light on what howard was writing about the shared the politics right down the line of she was as radical as he was. but laws didn't share his opportunity, which was true of
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most women of that generation. losses was not only the homemaker and the person that did most of the shopping, cleaning, cooking, raising of the kids, and roz was a very gifted person. finally after the children were grown and she finally had a chance to score some of her own, she became quite talented paper and i've seen quite a bit of work and live, from paintings in the biography. so if roz had more time and more encouragement as her generation of women simply did not, she
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might have achieved, i'm almost sure she would have achieved far more. >> host: at the beginning you mentioned that she was fairly meticulous and sort of working the archives as a lot of personal material. did you feel like looking over his life you got any insight into why he would have done that? >> guest: to compensate for the lack of personal material in the archives. i researched the archives of some of his closest friends, someone like francis who weighs well known and happily still with us, but she has given her papers to smith college. there are a number of such instances where i got permission of the friends to look at their
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own papers, and there i found some material in his personal life and i did any number of interviews with his friends and colleagues, and a couple of them, the very closest friends on my pledging that they would remain anonymous did tell me quite a bit about the personal as opposed to the political side >> host: we are running near the end of our time so i wanted to talk a little what you were hoping to get out of this biography, and something about what you think the legacy is lasting in the present and in the future. >> guest: i know what i hope
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his legacy will be. now it is a perfect example of a citizen who took on responsibility that he felt every citizen needed to if a democracy were to survive and flourish. in other words, you must get active even if it is on bill local level in a limited enterprise of which you have to be able to associate yourself with the issues of your own day that it isn't enough to be a professional, to work hard to raise a family, what ever your circumstances have to be. you have simply got to find a little time. and howard's case, he was able to find a lot of time in order
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to devote yourself to public affairs. and i think that he also demonstrates in his life that when people to act collectively rather than on an individual basis faugh you could run ragged through the streets screaming against the war in vietnam but if you have 100,000 people, screaming through the streets beside you you are more likely to change in policy and how word through his activities all exchanges so she knew that if when people unite in sufficient numbers they really can make a difference, and i think ultimately that is his legacy. >> host: have you seen that in
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occupied wall street? >> guest: absolutely i seen it very directly, several encampments of occupy when they set up a library it's been called at the howard is a library so howard is well known to the radical activist dhaka,. >> host: it's been wonderful talking with you today. everyone should go out and pick up the book. again, it is howard zinn, a life on the left. thank you. >> guest: thank you. that was "after words" booktv signature program in which authors of the latest nonfiction books are interviewed by journalists, public policy makers, legislators and others familiar with the material. "after words" tears every weekend at book tv at 10 p.m. on saturday, 12 and 9 p.m. on
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sunday and 12 a.m. on monday. you can also watch online. go to and click on "after words" in the series and topics list on the upper right hand side of the page. here is a look at some upcoming book fairs and festivals happening around the country. the 31st annual key west literary seminar is in florida from january 10th through the 25th. the seminar is focused on biographies from the past two centuries
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Book TV After Words
CSPAN January 6, 2013 9:00pm-10:00pm EST

Martin Duberman Education. (2013) 'Howard Zinn A Life on the Left.'

TOPIC FREQUENCY U.s. 6, Vietnam 5, Sncc 4, Boston 4, United States 3, Spellman 3, Columbus 2, Joyner 2, Etc. 2, Atlanta 2, Us 2, Brooklyn 2, Julian 1, John 1, Keefe 1, Christopher 1, Howard Zinn 1, Bob Moses 1, Albert Manly 1, Spearman 1
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